Data Says Women Driving Craft Beer Growth

Eno Sarris, November 02, 2016

Most of the piece is straightforward and avoids the pandering that sometimes comes when you're talking about women and craft beer. The idea, over at Nielsen, is that most craft beer demand is driven by men, but that there are a few styles that women preferred. 

In a recent English-language survey conducted by Harris Poll from Nov. 20-30, 2015, males responded with a higher preference for 75% of 37 different craft styles. A select group of varieties, however, were more preferable among women than men, including the seven in the chart below. And all but one of them (Hefeweizen) is among the top 20 growth performers.

Then, the fun visual: 

All pretty standard fare. And it's not like there isn't any nod to other factors that can affect these findings. Particularly, how old you are is pretty important. 

But gender isn’t the only factor driving adult beverage preference. Age and location play a role as well. For example, our recent craft beer survey found that consumers 35-44 are the most adventurous in terms of variety of preferred style preferences, followed next by consumers between 44 and 54, and after that the younger 21-34 year old drinking group. In terms of craft style preference, amber lager and pale ale scored highest across all age groups.

Okay, so far so good. 

One thing I didn't like about the visual above, though, was the index. Look at sours! Women love sours more than men so much! Look at that long orange bar! It's so long. 

Allow me a quick corollary to baseball. In baseball, strikeouts and walks are the currency of pitching. You want tons of strikeouts and very few walks. So they created a stat once called K/BB, or strikeouts divided by walks. The problem is that dividing them obscured a real benefit to more strikeouts. So you could have one pitcher with three strikeouts a game and one walk being called just as valuable as a pitcher with nine strikeouts and three walks, when in fact the second pitcher is much better. So baseball updated the stat with K%-BB%, which is an improvement that reflects the value of strikeouts better. 

In this case, overall demand is a good thing. So the fact that sours have a smaller demand bar is meaningful. As a retailer, I'd look at those first two bars and see Vegetable/Fruit/Pumpkin as the best opportunity for growth in my store. Existing demand is four times as big, which means there's a thirst for those beers overall, and also that the relationship between the preferences men and women have are also more meaningful. A bigger sample, and a bigger base of demand. 

Maybe I could be wrong. A smaller level of demand means more ceiling is left, and maybe the sample is large enough to believe the relationship between women and men on sours. Maybe you want to go hard on sours, which are certainly popular on the boards and in the forums, but haven't seen an uptick in popularity in other measures

Speaking of other measures, there's one more passage that caught my eye. 

With the big gains that ginger beer is driving, it’s no wonder that select brewers are thinking about other creative adult beverage options, including hard root beer and soda. While the pool of brands in this arena is currently small, hard root beer and soda generated more than $250 million in dollar sales during the 52 weeks ended March 26, 2016 within Nielsen measured channels. And when we look at consumption preferences by gender, female-led households showed a higher propensity to purchase these newer flavored products in comparison to their purchasing of more traditional beers.

Not Your Father's Root Beer does well on our boards now, nearing nine Beers Above Replacement as the best Root Beer we've got listed. But very few breweries that I go to are making sure they have one, and the boards are silent or negative, the forums yawning, and my local beer store says they don't ever sell any. The Safeway market is very different than the local beer store, and because so much beer is sold on-site at breweries, companies that get sales data from the big stores are going to overvalue the hard sodas and undervalue the North East IPAs.

It's a question of which data you are looking at, and also which data is a leading indicator and which is a lagging indicator. I can't prove it here, but to me, the big box store / IRI / barcode data is a lagging indicator. Those beers have already sold millions at grocery stores! What higher mountaintop is there? 

On the other hand, what about a style that is creating intense interest on the boards, forums, ratings-based leaderboards? What about a style that dominates new top beer lists -- Trillium and Tree House have 75% of all the top Hoppy Pales on RateBeer's top 250! What about a style that prompted a friend in the industry to tell me today that "it's perfect for people who love pale ales, because it's something new, and it's perfect for people who don't, because it's not as bitter, and has a different mouthfeel than most pale ales?" 

That certainly *sounds* like something on its way to the Big Box stores, on it's way to huge IRI / barcode numbers, and on its way to the grocery store, unless freshness issues keep it from happening. But again we're having the discussion about upside -- do you want to see the big bar or the little bar when it comes finding the next big thing? Do you want demonstrated demand -- the fruit and vegetable beers and the hard sodas in our two examples -- or the big upside of a small, growing bar -- the sours and the NEIPAs here. 

Beer can get complicated, and so can data, so there's no real problem here from my perspective. It's true that women are underrepresented in the craft beer industry in many different ways, and that they may like certain styles more than men, and that those styles therefore represent growth potential. That's the real takeaway here.